Our story of adopting a rescue dog from overseas and our top tips in case you choose to do it yourself!
I have to be honest, the concept of adopting a dog from overseas once baffled me.
'Why?' I thought, when so many dogs are in rescue here in the UK, do we need to bring more over?
And aren't there loving homes for them in those countries? It wasn't until I tried to adopt a rescue dog, before I bought Nellie as a puppy, here in England, that I started to understand.
There were no suitable dogs for me in our local rescue shelters. Where there were small/medium sized dogs, they weren't suitable for home with children ( I'm 28 - taking on a dog that couldn't be around children seemed very 'future defining' and irresponsible). Only one of the many rescues I contacted offered to take my details to put me on a list, but they openly told me that if a dog came in suiting my requirements, they'd be inundated with enquiries and I'd be unlikely to make the shortlist because I work full time, even though I work from home! No-one else bothered to take my details.
Since then, I did a little research. In British culture we view dogs as family - that just isn't the case in other countries. I don't believe anyone really knows how many stray dogs there are worldwide. It's estimated that in the EU alone there are 100,000,000 stray dogs. One. Hundred. Million. Mind Blown! Worldwide, possibly 480,000,000 dogs. If you think about it, an un-neutered female would have 2 litters a year for let's say 10 years with an average litter size of let's say 6 puppies. Every female produces 120 more dogs in her lifetime as a stray. The problem is sadly increasing.
There are many charities that help with rescuing, caring for and rehoming stray dogs in Europe and sourcing them amazing forever homes. Jessy was from Home - Hungary Hearts Dog Rescue who are local to me, but I'll be honest, it didn't start with copious research, recommendations or even an active search for a second dog. It started like all great modern day love stories - with a social media post.
There I was, a quiet Friday night, scrolling Facebook with Netflix playing some nonsense in the background and a glass of wine in hand. And there she was. Big brown eyes, staring back at me. Shared by someone onto our local Facebook page, and ultimately shared to me courtesy of the ever-baffling Facebook algorithm. The butterfly effect was in full motion.
Jessy's story was shared, along with this short video. She was found on the streets of Hungary - starving, injured and alone. A kind member of the public had enlisted some help from the charity, and before long she was in a foster home. She had been stoned with injuries to her head and face, she was starved and seriously underweight and she had wire embedded in her neck. After some veterinary attention, a spay procedure, a microchip, a passport, vaccinations and a lot of love, she was ready for a new home. Hungary Hearts like to secure new homes for their dogs before they're on the 'happy bus' to the UK. That's where I came in.
On first look, first glimpse of a Facebook post, I knew she was meant to be a part of this family. I applied. I was home checked. She was reserved for me. That's where the story really begins. I won't lie to you, I was nervous before I collected Jessy on New Years' Eve. How would she behave? Would she be aggressive? Would she even let me near her? Would Nellie be stressed?
The story begins...
I took Nellie with me to make sure they met on neutral ground. When it was Jessy's turn to get off the bus, she was very nervous and wanted to get back in. Once all the dogs had unloaded, I was able to meet her properly. She was really quiet, which I'd expected. Choosing a street dog is one thing, choosing a dog who's been abused is another. More trauma to overcome.
Jessy got a new collar, tag with all of her details, harness, a Tractive tracker and a slip lead. Step 1 complete: secure the pup.
I carried her to the car and clipped her into the back seat. I expected her to hate the journey but she loved it. When we got home, I had to coax her through the front door. Street dogs take a little time to learn going into houses/between rooms is OK - patience is key! Step 2 complete: re-locate the pup into her forever home.
Many steps followed, with many little hurdles overcome. Here are our main tips:
Use a lead in the garden - so they can't escape over a fence or hide from you! Be especially vigilant about the front door & windows - keep them shut in another room if the front door is open.
Keep them in the house for 2 or 3 days to recover from their journey and acclimatize. Even then, only start short walks if you're confident they're ready.
Use 2 leads on a walk - a slip lead and one on a harness - it's safer just in case they slip the collar/harness. A lot of these dogs will be neck sensitive, so definitely use a step in style harness as it may be easier to put on & take off.
Think about how your routine ahead of time and be consistent - this helps your pup settle sooner
Think about how you will cope with separation anxiety & prepare e.g. night lights (most street dogs won't like the dark), curtains open (some may not like being confined), music /TV on, Adaptil plug-in diffusers or sprays etc. Choose where you'd like them to sleep and be consistent - separate blog coming soon on separation anxiety.
"Where your new dog sleeps on night one is where they sleep forever" - my mum, 30th March 2020. Still the best advice I've ever received.
Prepare them a safe, cosy space but keep it optional i.e. a crate with the door open, or a my preferred option, a cosy nest bed with blankets. Closing them into a crate may panic them as they will only associate crates with negative/scary times e.g. being caught, being in a kill shelter or travelling over to the UK. Many won't entertain the idea of a crate!
Get ready with some tempting food choices - we recommend grain-free diets. Just because your dog has been starving before, doesn't mean they won't be too stressed to eat. Stock up on chicken, beef mince, rice etc. In Jessy's case, it was beef mince that tempted her to get going! From there, I mixed it into her dog food in slowly decreasing quantities until she understood dog food was tasty.
Insure them straight away & register them with a vet - you may need to pop in to see them to get started but leave this for at least 2 weeks unless it's an emergency.
Don't rush to have visitors or introduce them to other dogs - again, at least 2 weeks and keep introductions slow and calm
Get to know them slowly- give them lots of cuddles & attention but only on their terms i.e. when they approach you and let them have their quiet time too, just like a new puppy.
Honest Pros & Challenges
Just a few potential challenges you should be aware of before adopting
An incredibly rewarding process - you will have saved 1 x precious little life. Well done you!
Will come with their own set of issues and triggers - training and patience will be required! For example - fear of other dogs, traffic, separation anxiety, claustrophobia, food guarding etc.
You have a new best friend for life
Toilet training - an adult dog can get up onto higher places and soft furnishings may take a harder hit! Street dogs are especially adventurous.
You've supported a charity who can now go and save another dog in need!
If you have more than one dog, you may have to adapt your original dogs routine slightly to cope with/avoid your second dog's triggers. This can cause a little bit of stress for your original dog.
I hope that helps if you're looking to adopt a foreign rescue dog. It's one of the best things I've ever done. Here is Jessy tucked into her Ralph & Co - Lincoln Nest Bed | Nellie & Belle (nellieandbelle.co.uk) - she's safe and loved now!
It's been 2 months with Jessy and we are still learning. I'm sure there will be more updates to follow soon. Thanks for reading!
Zoe, Nellie & our new, incredibly spoilt rescue dog Jessy x